In a good many RPGs, character history is left up to the player to imagine. By character history I mean a player character’s life before they started adventuring. The problem is that players tend to really overdo it or ignore character history. I’ve seen some games that give the players a hand in outlining what happened in their life before and the results can go from subtle to profound. I’d argue though that even a subtle effect is an important one.
Who Are You?
Think about it for a minute, when you start a new job, people are aware that you existed before you started on the job. It’s only when people get to learn who you were before the job that they get to know YOU. Really, how could it be any different with a character?
Your everyday actions are informed by what happened to you when you were little. Were you popular? Were you bullied? Did you have that one friend that stuck with you through the years? Even if you don’t think about them consciously, those kinds of things alter how we approach people and our outlook on the world.
The problem is that some players are afraid to set these things down as the character’s history because a blank slate is easier to play. You can do anything you want and it’s apparently the character’s personality because they just did it.
Other players will try to insert things into their story that they see as getting them more power in the story. Things like “really a prince raised by peasants”.
How To Fix It
None of us pick all the conditions of our past, so why not flash forward roleplay them? The GM starts off the situation by looking at the basic chargen for the character and starts out.
Looking at the character’s Beauty, “You weren’t a very good looking youth. It even got you picked on in school more often than not.”
Looking at their Strength, “But as you got older and bigger than the kids around you, they stopped picking on you as much but still didn’t respect you.”
Now it’s the players turn, “Well I didn’t want to be a bully but it was useful to occasionally throw my weight around, I did try to limit it though and was always nice to the other kids that weren’t accepted.”
And that could go back and fourth until the character has reached the point where they start adventuring. It’s just one more way to inform the player of how to role play.